Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Week 6 at POST: time to start drafting!

After an excellent Easter weekend making the most of the sunshine and going back to Birmingham for a fencing competition, I came back to POST motivated to start writing my note!
The interview I was scheduled to have this afternoon was cancelled and so I had the whole day to set up the template and spend a long time staring at the blank page before starting to get some words down...
I collected some references together, so that when I come to put statistics in I can find where I found them easily. This is when I wish I was able to use my usual combination of Mendeley reference manager and LaTeX, as I'm not used to battling with Microsoft Word!

I came in this morning to be almost immediately greeted by a phone call from one of my interviewees saying that they had changed their mind about being interviewed: apparently their use of big data is not something they want to talk about publicly yet. This is slightly annoying, but hopefully I have spoken to enough people in the same industry that it shouldn't leave too much of a hole.

I then had two telephone interviews in the morning, and rewarded myself with some millionaire's shortbread from Ravello's! I then spent most of the afternoon writing up the interviews and investigating whether any organisation has looked into developing an accreditation scheme for data scientists.

Lydia and I were supposed to start our day with a phone interview, but our interviewee ended up stuck underground on a hot tube train with three fainters! Instead we had a useful meeting between the two of us - sorting out the timetable for me drafting my note and it going through the internal and external review process. We decided to schedule the internal review for the 15th May, so before then I need to have drafted it and discussed it with Lydia a number of times - better get writing!

When the notes are put together, it's important that we speak not only to relevant parties in industry and academia, but also those from the third sector, so I investigated consumer groups who may have opinions on the use of big data by businesses. I also looked through the interviews carried out for the Social Media and Big Data note, which asked similar questions.

I finished the day by making sure that I was fully prepared for my two interviews the next day - opportunities to learn about the financial services and insurance industries, as well as speaking to someone from the market research society.

Starting off the day with a 9:30 interview seemed like a good idea, until I realised this did not give my goggle marks time to go away after swimming! In combination with my now very obvious cycling short tan lines, I may aswell have the word "Triathlete" tattooed across my forehead... Luckily my interviewees either didn't notice or were too polite to comment, and we had a really interesting and productive conversation about how the financial sector is using big data currently and what the future might hold in this industry. I'm not a regular coffee drinker and Portcullis house must have been using a particularly strong blend, as I was pretty much knocked sideways by my Mocha... Although this did mean that I was super-speedy writing up my notes from the interview!

My late afternoon interview had been cancelled, so that gave me more time to speak to the market research society and learn more about the data protection act and it's effect on businesses using personal data.

Today was a day of learning - showing just how useful it is to speak to people rather than spending hours trawling books and papers. I wonder whether this is why I found the modules in my Doctoral Training Centre course so useful for writing the literature review for my PhD. 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Week 5 at POST: Not as quiet as I was expecting!

Week 5
Looking at my calender this week it appears very empty - most people are out of the office this week before Easter and so scheduling interviews has been a no-go. 
I started the week by writing up the last of the interviews from last week. I then made summaries and compared them with those from all the other interviews: trying to see if I could draw patterns from what had been said. In some way, I acted in the same way as the data scientists I've been reading all about: collecting large amounts of data and then finding the important trends. The final product is similar in both cases: presenting a lot of information in a way that makes it accessible to non-specialists.
I also spent a while today looking into any regional differences, as MPs are interested in what is going on in their constituencies, any focus point on a particular area is worth mentioning. I then read through some government documents: picking out new councils, initiatives, alliances and clusters that might be relevant: so many buzz words!!

After finding all the government initiatives from the documents, I then went about researching them to see whether they were actually relevant, or if people from the organisations would be useful to speak to.
We then had a really useful Big Data meeting. As it is a new concept to have a theme of POSTnotes, no-one really knows how to manage it. Now the latest group of fellows have started, we have our full “Big Data team” and so were able to discuss what was going into each of our notes to make sure that we knew where overlap might occur and so who to keep in touch with when we start writing.
I then had a meeting with two of the advisors to have a think about the themes I’d found from the interviews and comparing these with my original scope: coming up with a plan for how the note will shape up. This was really useful, and it’s interesting to see what things we had thought would be important actually aren’t and vice versa.
There are some really helpful documents in our shared drive about how to write a POSTnote – from the technical use of Microsoft Word to stylistic points. I used this afternoon to have a look through them to see how to frame the information I've collected.

After reading a few articles in the last week in the Evening standard about high frequency trading, I thought it might be useful to find out more about the industry. After some reading and drowning in terminology, I managed to find a useful blog post from PwC about the industry and its regulation. I got in contact with the author and have arranged to meet him. The hope is that after that I will know enough to be more informed as to whether it goes in the note.
Today was obviously a day for people to organise things, so I ended up finalising quite a few more interviews: from academics and industry. I then used the new plan for my note to put together some questions that would inform the structure. I also heard about a conference hosted by STFC, which is aimed at linking small businesses with research councils working with Big Data, so I've registered for that!
I then had a rather lazy afternoon: my mum was having a meeting across the road, so we had some ice cream in the glorious lunchtime sunshine! I got back from this just in time to catch the other fellows having a mid-afternoon tea break on the terrace, and would have been rude not to join them… I did, however, go back to my desk and do some more reading up on high frequency trading, so I would be able to get the most out of my interview with the financial expert next week.

Maundy Thursday today, so it’s basically a Friday! The office (and the rest of London) is pretty empty…
I spent some time this morning adding in my project and contacts into the CRM database, allowing other people in POST to see who I have contacted and what their area of expertise is. This is especially important for those of us working on the big data theme, as it ensures we don’t contact the same people twice. It also means we can read the interview notes if someone has been contacted, and I spent the rest of the morning reading through some which were relevant to me but had been carried out by other fellows.
I then had a really useful phone interview talking about the use of Big Data in sport – an area which will make quite an interesting addition to the “managing assets” part of my note.

As it’s the last day for one of the fellows, we had a mid-afternoon trip to the pub round the corner: returning with enough time to write up the interview and finish a few things off before the long weekend! As some of the fellows have moved to London for the placement, they are heading off all over the country for the weekend. I’m spending tomorrow in London catching up with friends, before heading back up to Birmingham for the fencing open on Sunday. I've also entered a cycling sportive for Monday – and I’m doing that with one of the girls I met at Twickenham cycling club: it’s great that just 5 weeks in London and I've already found people to cycle with!

Monday, 14 April 2014

Week 4 at POST: Interviews, more interviews and Jazz!

Week 4
After a weekend of cycling, family birthday celebrations and a victorious boat race, I started the week by going to the UCL Big DataSymposium. There were a range of speakers from academia and industry talking about big data in research, business and security. After seeing my week ahead packed with interviews, I decided against epic networking like at the previous conference and was more of an observer! The speakers were very good and it’s always good to hear more different applications of big data and opinions on the future of the analytics. The most useful session for me was the afternoon session on application in businesses, but there was also a lot of discussions around business-university collaborations and consumer privacy.
The more I research into big data, the more I realise just how much personal information is out there: I switch between wanting to cut up my Clubcard and disappear to giving everyone everything and reaping the benefits from their analytics!

In the morning, I caught up with the e-mails I had missed yesterday, which involved scheduling some more interviews. I also wrote up notes from yesterday’s symposium and prepared questions for the interviews I had planned in the afternoon.
I had my first solo face-to-face interviews in the afternoon: one in Ealing and the other in Fulham. Both interviewees were really informative and gave interesting perspectives on how big companies are using big data. It’s also good to start to see common themes emerging from what people are saying. This gives me encouragement that I will be able to put it all together at some point!

I spent today either interviewing or writing up interviews. One of them was across London, which gave me a great opportunity for a walk in the sunshine! Despite the tourists, it’s walks like that when you see all the famous London landmarks in all their glory that make me really enjoy working in the city.

After work, we went as a group of fellows to a jazz night at the crypt under Trafalgar square. This was great fun and ended with us dancing very enthusiastically at the back of the room! Although, with London travel times it makes getting back so much later than what I’m used to…

After a big block of interviews, I had a lot of writing up to do and, with two more interviews scheduled for the afternoon I had questions to write as well! This led to a busy morning at my desk and a full on afternoon of interviewing. Both conversations were productive though, and backed up points made by other people I had spoken to. They also gave me some more people to speak to, who might also be of help.
On my way home I went to a women’s cycling event at Evans in Wimbledon: they had speakers who presented and then answered questions on cycling as well as snacks and discounts. I also bumped into a girl I’d met at Kingston Wheelers, although it took us a while to work out that we knew each other: we both look very different in our work clothes than in our cycling kit!

I can’t believe it’s the end of week 4 already! One third of the way through and, to be honest, I’m not dying to go back to Birmingham… After a morning of typing, I finally managed to get on top of my interview write ups.
There is a system used for keeping track of who POST has spoken to, so that we know who to contact for certain topics and to try and avoid asking the same people the same questions. In the afternoon I went along to a training session on how to use this software, so that I can input all my interviewees once I’m finished. Speaking of interviewees, I had one more to finish off the week: giving me a total of 7 in 4 days!
It’s great being able to speak to people from such a wide range of sectors. From companies specialising in retail like eBay and TESCO to sports analytics and financial services, it seems as though everyone is, or could be, using big data.

This week has been exhausting, but I’m trying to build up the energy to go to the “ukscitweetup” after my spin class. I’d be much more enthusiastic if I trusted the bus service from Hammersmith, but I keep ending up lost in Barnes on my way home… 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Week 3 at POST

Week 3
Week 3 already! We have a new group of fellows starting this week, and it’s a bit weird that I already feel like one of the more experienced people here…
I started off today by finalising my scoping document so that is now ready to be sent out to potential interviewees. I then went through my contact list and prioritised who to get in touch with first. I sent out my first wave of e-mails: to academics and people implementing big data in their companies. I had a couple of nightmares including missed attachments and a premature send which included the wrong company name! Luckily, I was quick with my follow up apologies, and both of the people involved replied, so they obviously didn’t mind too much!
By the end of the day, I already had 4 replies, and interviews confirmed for this and next week. Although some were quite entertaining – including “I am free, but only after 5pm”. Which, surely, means “I’m not free at all, but I can meet you after work”!
I spent the morning finalising interview times and preparing questions for a telephone interview this afternoon. I then had the opportunity to go on one of the tours up the Elizabeth tower to see Big Ben! This was a great tour – really informative and interesting. We got to see how it worked, speak to the guy that winds the clock and hear what they did over the weekend when the clocks went back. I was on the 11:15 tour, so we also got to see the hammer strike Big Ben 12 times – maximum bongs! You are given earplugs, but you can feel the vibration of the bell. It’s also interesting to hear how carefully calibrated the clock is, with communication 3 times a week with the atomic clock in Greenwich.
After lunch in the sunshine(/smog) I then was ready for my first interview! It was perfect to start with as he was immensely helpful and gave me lots of information. This meant that I had time to think of my next question, while he spoke. I then spent the rest of my afternoon writing up my scribbled notes: of which there were a lot!
In the evening I finally made it to a fencing session, which was a nice relaxed club but with high quality fencing: perfect!
After reading an article in the evening standard last night on the train about big data being used by LUSH, I got in contact with their press team to try and organise an interview with their data scientist.
I spent most of today preparing questions for what is now a long list of interviews next week! We also started a spreadsheet between all of us on the big data theme to ensure we don’t start contacting the same people for interviews. Luckily no duplicates so far…
I had another telephone interview in the afternoon which was really interesting, and then managed to catch the end of a meeting with some STFC representatives to introduce myself and get them to introduce me to more people working in high performance computing.
Alongside our work, the fellows decided we needed a social event: so we’re going to a jazz night at the crypt next week!
A day spent scheduling interviews, planning questions and writing up notes. In the evening I managed to find a track to run around and despite the smog this really cleared my head!
I discovered another conference that might be useful to us, and so enquired as to whether there was space available for us to come along. Fingers crossed! Sir Mark Walport is the keynote, so it would be great to see the current government perspective on the use of big data.
I also heard back from LUSH – justifying my evening newspaper on the tube – and should be speaking to them next Thursday.
At lunchtime I went over to the Royal society and listened to a lecture about Dorothy Hodgkin. Turns out she was awesome! An Oxford chemistry graduate who then went on to become the only British woman so far to win a Nobel Prize for science, she was one of those women in science who was an amazing scientist, but just happened to be a woman. She never made an issue of her gender, but just got on with it, which I think is the right approach.

This week is ‘heritage week’ in parliament, and I popped in to the Lords’ library on my way back to look at some satirical cartoons from the 1800s by James Gillray. They were very intricate and still maintained their vibrant colours which is quite remarkable!